2013/10/02: Readings

Ready to Answer? Or Ready to Attack?
As Christians, the Bible tells us we are to give an answer to every man who asks us: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). That phrase “give an answer” is from the Greek word apologia, from which we get our English word apologetics. It means a legal defense, as in a court of law.

But we are to keep in mind that as we make our case in the courtroom of public opinion with those we are speaking with, we are not there as prosecuting attorneys, but as witnesses. And witnesses simply testify to what they have seen.

Yet sometimes Christians, armed with all the information they can get, assault unbelievers with what they know and effectively blow them out of the water. They have won the argument but lost the soul, and that is not the objective. Even though we may know a great deal, we should present the information with love and humility. In 2 Timothy 2:24–25 we are reminded that “a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition. . . .”

When you are telling others about Christ, often you will be barraged with questions. Sometimes people ask questions they actually want the answers to. And sometimes these questions are intended to get you off track. They are intended to get you to go away. So when we are dealing with these questions, it is important to address what we are being asked, but also remember that our core message for the unbeliever is the gospel.

How does a person meditate on God’s Word?

Verse: Psalms 119:15

Meditation is a combination of reviewing, repeating, reflecting, thinking, analyzing, feeling and even enjoying. It is a physical, intellectual and emotional activity—it involves our whole being.

In some ways, meditation doesn’t easily fit into Western culture. We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering. The author of this psalm was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.

There are many ways to meditate on God’s Word. Some possibilities include: (1) Take time to read a verse or passage over and over. (2) Begin to memorize all or part of it. (3) Listen—quiet your heart to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through God’s Word. (4) Consider how it fits with the rest of the Bible and life in general. (5) Become emotionally involved—allow yourself to feel what God feels, his desires expressed through his words. (6) Move from meditation to application—connect your thoughts to action. Consider how the truth and power of the Word of God should affect your behavior.

Did the Old Testament Predict the Ascension?

What most clearly foretold the ascension of Christ to heaven is in Psalm 68:18, which is quoted by the apostle Paul and applied to the ascension of Christ (Ephesians 4:8-10), and all the parts of it agree with him. Jesus is the Lord that was among the angels in Sinai, who spoke to Moses there; and from whom he received the oracles of God to give to Israel. He is the God of salvation, the author of it to his people. And of him it may be truly said, that he "ascended on high," far above all heavens, the visible heavens, the starry heavens, and into the third heaven, the more glorious seat of the divine Majesty.

Jesus has led "captivity captive" - either those who had been prisoners in the grave, but freed by him, and who went with him to heaven, or the enemies of his people who have led them captive. The allusion is to leading captives in triumph for victories obtained.

Christ "received," upon his ascension, "gifts for men," and, as the apostle expresses it, "gave" them to us. He received them in order to give them; and he gave them in consequence of receiving them. In fact, he received them for, and gave them to, "rebellious" men, as all by nature are "foolish and disobedient." Such a one was the apostle Paul, as the account of him and his own confessions show, who received a large measure of those gifts of grace.

The end of bestowing those gifts was "That the Lord God might dwell among men," gathered out of the world, through the ministry of the Bible, into gospel churches, which are built up for an habitation for God through the Spirit.

What Does it Mean for God’s Kingdom to Come?

Jesus told us to pray for God’s kingdom to come. What does that mean?

One thing is certain: to pray it apart from all the courage you can muster would be failing to understand what you are praying. Particularly concerning God’s utter and complete sovereignty. “What would stand and what would fall?” reflects Frederick Buechner....

It’s true. When we pray, we are to pray for God’s kingdom, God’s will, to not only come into our lives and take root, but through us to spread throughout the earth. God’s kingdom was announced by Jesus, and makes its way into the world from that beachhead as individuals give their hearts and lives to Christ. In that sense, God’s kingdom has arrived, and we have been brought into that kingdom as believers.

But the full consummation lies ahead. So to pray that the kingdom will come is to pray that His kingdom will grow as we pursue our witness to Jesus, and live lives of salt and light. So with the great commission comes a cultural commission. We pray for the kingdom to take hold on the planet; governments and institutions, judicial systems and media.

How Can We Love Like Jesus Commands?

When a lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37, 39). What an overwhelming assignment!

In our own strength, none of us can live up to this obligation, but the Lord has provided a way for Christians to do the impossible. The indwelling Holy Spirit works to produce His fruit in us, and first on the list is love (Galatians 5:22). In fact, the other eight qualities are really just descriptions of its expression.

Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience, or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and doesn’t deserve such pleasant treatment. This fruit is not produced by trying harder to muster good will toward someone who is irritating or hard to get along with. Instead, think of the process more like sap running through a branch on a grape-vine. The branch doesn’t make grapes; the sap does. In the same way, the Spirit flows through us, producing God’s love in us, so that we can pass it on to Him and others.

Agape love is the reason we are able to care for someone who mistreats us—it’s God’s doing, not ours. Even the adoration we offer the Lord is not something that we can produce in our own heart apart from His assistance. Though the command to love is enormous, God’s grace makes it possible.

If I Prayed to “Accept Jesus into My Heart,” Is That Enough?

The Bible speaks about beginning a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in a variety of ways, so it may come as a surprise that nowhere does Scripture specifically refer to “praying to accept Jesus into your heart.” Instead the Bible emphasizes trust/faith in who Jesus is and what he has done through his death and resurrection. Take, for example, Romans 10:9-10—“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

There is also nothing “magical” about prayer. But it is a natural way of confessing our sins to God and asking the Lord to forgive us because of who Jesus is and what he did on the cross. And since prayer is simply talking to God, it is a vital part of growing in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

While it is true that we are saved by faith, we must understand that biblical faith is dynamic. It is far more than simply agreeing with a set of facts about God and Jesus. By its very nature it transforms a person over time, making itself known. It produces evidence (which the Bible often calls “fruit”) in our lives. Let me try to illustrate this:

Imagine we met for coffee one Monday morning at my home. During our conversation, I tell you that a herd of 100 elephants walked through my backyard over the weekend. You would likely find that hard to believe (unless we lived in Africa!). You would be even more skeptical if you looked out at my backyard and didn't see a single footprint or pile of droppings! How could 100 elephants pass through someone's backyard without leaving a single bit of evidence?

On the night Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples that everyone who abides in him will bear fruit (John 15:5). When our faith bears the fruit of good works, it glorifies God (John 15:8). As we continue to trust in the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Put another way, as we see the beauty and glory of Jesus, the Spirit transforms us so that we more clearly reflect the character of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).

Jesus Christ did everything necessary to save us from our sins. He obeyed where we had failed. He suffered the penalty that we deserved for our sins by dying on the cross. He conquered death by rising on the third day. He ascended to the right hand of God the Father and sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in his people. We experience all that Jesus has done for us by faith, a faith that the Spirit uses to make us more like our Lord and Savior.

Don’t Heap up Empty Phrases in Prayer

Jesus said that when we pray we should “not heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7). Later he lamented a hypocritical form of worship by quoting the indictment that first came through Isaiah: “These people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:8).

We must be so careful when we bow our heads to pray, or lift our voices to sing. God is not impressed when we utter mere words such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah!” He is looking for worshippers whose spirits (i.e., minds, hearts, and thoughts) are engaged in expressing the meaning of those words (cf. John 4:23). It is easy to melodically recite lyrics of Christian songs, but it takes concentration, sincerity and thoughtfulness to truly worship in song. We should never hide behind fine sounding words while our minds wander through a set of thoughts about something else.

This is a special challenge when someone else is leading us in prayer during a church service or at a Bible study. Those words coming from the one composing and vocalizing the prayer must be echoed in our own minds and then thoughtfully directed to God from our own hearts. When we are leading in prayer or praying privately, we must be careful to never “heap up empty phrases” which our minds never grasp or our hearts never direct to God.

Real prayer and real worship require our minds. Don’t switch them off. Don’t let them wander. God deserves our full attention and desires our attentive communication.

Recovery through Sanctification?

God's recovery program for fallen mankind is always sanctification.

Christ's New Testament church was born into a sin-warped, dark-hearted world of mixed-up marriages, sin-scarred lives, and confused families.

As we open to the book of Titus never forget that is the context. Paul, guided by the Spirit of God, was writing a letter to Titus, the missionary church planter sent to the island of Crete.

Roman culture in the First Century was closed to God's ways. That meant that every man and woman on Crete had been born into a sin-warped society. Each person Titus encountered was living out their life each day darkened by sin, enduring mixed-up and struggling marriages, and limping along with sin-scarred lives and families. But despite their failures, God wanted to make them useful again.

God knew that the men and women who were gloriously saved could not automatically become great wives and mothers, or husbands and fathers. When they came to Christ and were forgiven, God graciously gave them everything they needed to become godly wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers. But, they needed something else called sanctification to change them into useful servants of God.

The book of Titus captures the pattern God gave for every believer as the goal and direction of their life. Being a Titus 2 person of godliness should be the desire of every parent for their child; and every partner for their mate; and of every believer for their own life.

 What are the different kinds of psalms?

Verse: Psalms 3:1-6

There are many ways to categorize the psalms. Some focus on content (trouble or trust, praise or prayer, joy or repentance). Others emphasize the use of the psalms (public ceremonies, private prayers and so on). Still others analyze style and technique (such as parallelism and acrostics). Here are some general categories:

(1) Hymns of praise. Many psalms were used in temple worship and some even include directions for the song leader. Many are still used as the basis for hymns and praise choruses.

(2) Complaints. Life is tough and many of the psalms reflect that fact. People turn to the psalms in times of distress because the psalms dare to be honest and meet them right where they are.

(3) Royal or Messianic. Many psalms revolved around the king and were intended to be used for public occasions in the life of the nation of Israel. Early Christian teachers, however, recognized that these psalms contained prophetic allusions to Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

(4) Occasional. Referred to as songs of ascent (Ps 120–134), these psalms were so named because they were sung by Israelite pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. Other special occasions often had their own psalms as well.

(5) Wisdom. A few psalms illustrate the difference between human folly and godly wisdom, between sinful and righteous behavior.

Other categories could also be listed: historical, repentance, curse and creation.

How Can Your Testimony Help You Evangelize?

A time-honored, effective method of evangelism is your personal testimony. Just telling about your spiritual pilgrimage. The skeptic may deny your doctrine or attack your church, but he cannot honestly ignore the fact that your life has been cleaned up and revolutionized.

Now, I'm not talking about some stale, dragged-out verbal marathon. That kind of testimony never attracted anyone! I'm speaking of an effective, powerful missile launched from your lips to the ears of the unsaved. Consider these five suggestions:

1. You want to be listened to, so be interesting. It's a contradiction to talk about how exciting Christ really is in an uninteresting way. Remember to guard against religious clichés, jargon, and hard-to-understand terminology. Theologians, beware!

2. You want to be understood, so be logical. Think of your salvation in three phases and construct your testimony accordingly: (a) before you were born again—the struggles within, the loneliness, lack of peace, absence of love, unrest, and fears; (b) the decision that revolutionized your life; and (c) the change—the difference it has made since you received Christ.

3. You want the moment of your new birth to be clear, so be specific. Don't be vague. Speak of Christ, not the church. Emphasize faith more than feeling. Be simple and direct as you describe what you did or what you prayed or what you said. This is crucial!

4. You want your testimony to be used, so be practical. Be human and honest as you talk. Don't promise, "All your problems will end if you will become a Christian," for that isn't true. Try to think as unbelievers think.

5. You want your testimony to produce results, so be warm and genuine. A smile breaks down more barriers than the hammer blows of cold, hard facts. Let your enthusiasm flow freely. It's hard to convince someone of the sheer joy and excitement of knowing Christ if you're wearing a face like a jail warden. Above all, be positive and courteous. Absolutely refuse to argue. Nobody I ever met was "arm wrestled" into the kingdom. Insults and put-downs turn people off.

Ask God to open your lips and honor your words . . . but be careful! Once your missile hits the target, you'll become totally dissatisfied with your former life as an earthbound, secret-service saint.